The real world of high fashion is all about glitz and glamour, fame and fortune.
It is associated with all things radiance and beauty; billionaire designers and equally rich supermodels showcasing the high authentic end of brands.
This might not be the reflection in the local Kenyan context. The fashion and clothing industry, both for established firms and start-ups as well as well profiled commercial modeling agencies and bedroom promoters, is in an awkward gait. Yet, since this is one industry whose nature shares in screaming for attention, the talk has always been loud and so is the attempt among the struggling players who forever live with the ‘fake till you make it mantra’.
Estimated at a potential worth of Sh35 billion, the Kenyan fashion industry struggles to align itself with the wider, more lucrative international market due to the lack of proper visibility through advertising and a lack of support by the
The fashion industry not only entails the textile sector but also designing quality clothing, modelling, advertising, and retail sales both for the affluent, aged and classy as well as the trendy young, and restless.
The clothing sector initially thrived but took a beating with the introduction of secondhand importation in the 1980s, thrift flood-in mostly from the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe that sold cheaply and took over and dictated the fashion, design, and modelling world. Establishing textile industries died and so did the cotton sector that dressed it.
After its decline in the 1980s, the industry, however, got reprieve after an international trade agreement. The African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) was introduced in 2000. It provided African countries with duty-free access to the US market.
“Between 2000 and 2004, Kenya’s clothing exports— virtually all going to the United States—increased slowly, from $8.6 million (Sh860 million) to $17 million (Sh1700 million). With the end of the (Multi-Fiber Arrangement) MFA in 2004, apparel exports rose steeply, hitting a high of $283 million (Sh28,300 million) in 2008,” reads part of a 2015 report by the Ministry of Industrialisation and Enterprise Development on the country’s apparel and textile industry.
According to the report, Kenya saw a return of investment and growth spurred by assurances of AGOA renewal, with some firms scaling up their operations and new firms arriving into the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) between 2010 and 2014.
“Provisional Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) numbers suggest Kenya’s apparel exports within the EPZ under AGOA grew at a 17 percent CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) between 2010 and 2014 to reach $332 million (Sh33,200 million),” read the report in part.
Ann McCreath, founder of internationally recognised design brand KikoRomeo as well as board member of the Kenya Fashion Council, says that one of the major challenges the textile and in particular the fashion industry in Kenya faces is an operating environment that stunts growth.